Last week, I shared my favorite reads of 2022, and most of them were positive and uplifting books, offering entertainment rather than diving deep into human condition (though it’s not to say that they all lacked depth!), but it wasn’t all I’ve read throughout the year. There were some books that I found interesting and noteworthy that for various reasons didn’t make it to my favorite list, and today, I’d like to put the spotlight on them.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This book offers a unique take on the time travel which is a means of waging a futuristic war with agents of both sides traveling up and down various probability streams to affect the events of the past to a desired outcome, and it does it in a unique way: through secret letters between two enemies. While I enjoyed the writing and how the pieces of the puzzle fell together in the end, the beginning felt like it was dragging, and there were a few points where I was considering abandoning the book, so it didn’t make it to my favorites. Nevertheless, it’s a breath of fresh air in a somewhat stale time travel trope.
Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
What drew me to the book was the premise: during a belated honeymoon, a married man loses his wife in the crowd and embarks on a quest to find her. But to do so, he’ll have to climb the levels of the (in)famous Tower of Babel. This felt interesting compared to the usual chosen ones, royal heirs fighting to get their throne back, or the great evil threatening the land. While I enjoyed the book, I couldn’t help disconnecting with the main character who, given his circumstances, was naïve a little too much for a little too long. I was glad that I stuck with him, though, because when he finally got his bearings, the story became more interesting.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
For me, the selling point of this book was the setting: an early 20th century Egypt with steampunk technology, magic, and—of course—djinn. And it that regard, it certainly had delivered. Yet, sadly, I found the story dragging with the main characters hitting dead ends and stumbling upon clues rather than discovering them thanks to their wits and not being fast enough putting things together. I also felt like their personalities were lacking and like they were actors meant to present the world to the readers by interacting with it rather than fully fleshed persons. I still enjoyed my time with the book, and the unique setting is definitely worth discovering.
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker
It’s not always that we get to see a siege of a city from an engineer’s point of view, and the book deals heavily with logistics and tactics of having to prepare a defense rather than heroic battles on the walls. But what convinced me to pick up the book was the writing, full of the main character’s personality and some well-delivered humor (with a pinch of absurd) that balances the events that are sometimes leaning toward the darker side of grimdark. I had a good time with the book, but for some reason, it didn’t pull me in with full strength. I could read a chapter or two, have a good time, but then, when something distracted me, I would leave it for a week or so, never feeling the urge to pick it up again, and the cycle repeated for a while. That aside, I’m still glad I gave this book a chance, and I feel it deserves its place on this list.
Between my favorite books of the year and the unique reads, and with many other titles being enjoyable as well, 2022 turned out to be a great reading year for me. I hope that 2023 is going to be as great… or even better, because there’s never enough of wonderful books, right?